Making a Masterpiece: Bouts and Beyond

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The imagination, science and sublime skill behind the creation of an iconic artwork will be the focus of a major new exhibition at York Art Gallery this October.
The exhibition takes its inspiration from an important late fifteenth-century painting by the Dieric Bouts workshop, Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, on loan from The Bowes Museum and saved for the nation in 2016 following an export ban.

This vibrant painting thematises artistic creation as both divine inspiration and study of the world, and sparks three interconnected themes exploring how artists create images, ranging in time period from the northern Renaissance to the present day.

The displays feature significant loans from a wide range of national and regional collections, alongside works drawn from York Art Gallery’s own rich collection and new commissions by contemporary artist Christopher Cook. Collectively, these exhibits explore image-making and consider how artists project ideas about their practices back out to the world.

Dr Beatrice Bertram, senior curator at York Art Gallery, said: “Behind every artwork lies a process of planning and making, and this is perfectly reflected in the wonderful 15th-century painting St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child by the workshop of Dieric Bouts. We see Luke, the patron saint of artists, in an idealised studio, drawing the Virgin Mary and Christ Child, while in the background there is a half-completed panel painting. This religious picture celebrates artists’ status and creativity.

“Drawing inspiration from this picture, York Art Gallery has brought together a range of works dating from the 15th to the 21st centuries to explore how artists think about image-making, and how in turn they want us to think about their roles as creators. We hope it will give visitors real insight into the creative process and some of the reasons why artists choose to portray their subjects and themselves in a particular way.”

Extending across the Gallery’s three temporary exhibition spaces, the exhibition will take the visitor on a journey through time, discovering the ways that artists design their artworks to affect viewers. The first section will showcase paintings, drawings and prints by influential past masters to illuminate artistic creation in Early Netherlandish art. These include eight exquisite works from the National Gallery, such as Dieric Bouts’ The Virgin and Child, Christ Crowned with Thorns and Mater Dolorosa, and Hans Memling’s The Virgin and Child with an Angel, Saint George and a Donor. It will also feature a series of engravings by Lucas Van Leyden borrowed from the British Museum.

The second section of the exhibition takes the Saint Luke painting as an archetype for later representations of artists at work in the studio. It will feature works by more modern artists including Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Leonard Rosoman and William Etty. Drawing liberally upon the Gallery’s own collections, the third section examines artworks from the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of Dutch and Flemish art and juxtaposes them with new works they have inspired by contemporary artist Christopher Cook, who has recently been shortlisted for the Sunny Art Prize 2019. These new commissions respond to work by artists including Frans Snyders, Jan van Goyen and Anthony van Dyck.

The exhibition has been conceived and co-curated by Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein from the University of York, an expert on early Netherlandish art and the current Director of York Art History Collaborations. She said, “I’m delighted that this exhibition offers the opportunity to get up close to so many wonderful artworks made in past centuries, and discover their relevance for art today.” The exhibition and accompanying programme are part of an innovative Heritage Lottery Fund funded partnership with The Bowes Museum and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and achieved in association with the National Gallery.